“Silent Diplomacy” toward Myanmar (2) [2021年05月27日（Thu）]
In Myanmar, the government and the military have been engaged in fighting Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on and off for more than seven decades. There are many conflicts around the world, but I don’t know of any other nation where the fighting has continued for as long as in Myanmar.
The Japanese government appointed me, a civilian, as its Special Envoy for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, in recognition of years of my humanitarian and other activities in the Southeast Asian country. For example, The Nippon Foundation has built hundreds of schools mainly for children of ethnic minorities, helped the nation in its fight against leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, since the 1970s, and provided vocational training, hygiene guidance and food assistance. The position of special envoy has no fixed term.With about 135 ethnic groups, Myanmar is not a straightforward “country” in the way that people in Japan and other nations might think. EAOs have undergone repeated alignment and realignment. Buddhist monks have a strong say on politics, while peoples in Karen and Kachin states are mostly Christians. Besides, there are Muslims in some parts of the country as well.My job is to interact and listen to each one of these groups to encourage them to sit down at the negotiating table with the government and the military. Above all, it is to win the trust of all those stakeholders. In a country such as Myanmar where people value saving face, I make a point of being extra careful about what I say as my remarks receive a lot of attention.I am determined to keep working to the best of my ability to complete my mission as the Special Envoy of the Government of Japan in order to attain the ultimate goal of creating a democratic Federal Republic that will emerge in the future for national reconciliation and Union peace. This is exactly what General Aung San, father of deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, dreamed of.Whatever criticisms and smears I might face, I will keep working every day in an effort to help resolve the current situation in which Myanmar finds itself. To complete my mission, I will stick firmly to “silent diplomacy.”In 2020, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi commissioned The Nippon Foundation to help restore a Japanese sword her father had been presented with by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war, before he became the founding father of the modern-day Myanmar. There has been steady progress in the restoration work being undertaken by sword-polishers in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan. I believe a time will come when I can return her father’s sword to her in person.Numerous news outlets, both foreign and domestic, have asked to interview me on Myanmar, but I have turned all of them down. For this, I would like to offer my sincere apologies.If you are interested, please read the following:(1) Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu’s statement on ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting issued on April 27, 2021:ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting (Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs MOTEGI Toshimitsu) | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (mofa.go.jp)(2) An AP story on the May 14 release of a Japanese journalist who was detained in Myanmar:https://apnews.com/article/myanmar-tokyo-japan-journalists-7e90e258489afe0609798a621b5b776d(3) A report titled “From Elections to Ceasefire in Myanmar’s Rakhine State” published on December 23, 2020, by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, focusing on my activities in the wake of the country’s general elections in November.https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/b164-elections-ceasefire-myanmars-rakhine-state
“Silent Diplomacy” Toward Myanmar (1) [2021年05月26日（Wed）]
I have been under fire from overnight experts on Myanmar and those on social networks who ask: “Why doesn’t Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, criticize that country’s military for seizing power on February 1?“
I recall what prominent Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring (1907-2002), the first chairman of The Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation, said, stressing the need to pursue “silent diplomacy” when confronted with a challenging mission.
Ambassador Jarring, dubbed the Silent Swede because of his talent for quiet diplomacy, served as Swedish ambassador to the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as U.N. special representative to the Middle East in an attempt to solve the Arab-Israeli deadlock. “Although he alienated journalists with his public aloofness, Jarring was known as an ideal mediator and an adept practitioner of the art of diplomatic tightrope walking,” said the Los Angeles Times.
On March 10, 1945, when I was six years old, I miraculously survived the U.S. firebombing raid on Tokyo during World War II. I took hold of the hands of my ailing mother, who had a high fever, and we somehow escaped the bombs as they rained down. The three-hour raid killed about 108,000 people and destroyed my school and countless other buildings in downtown Tokyo. I will never forget finding the bodies of our neighbors and attaching nametags to them. I felt like I had experienced a living hell. Since then, I have lived with a strong desire to realize a world where everyone can live in peace and security.
Based on that experience, I have worked relentlessly since the Myanmar military took power on February 1 to persuade its leaders to give top priority to respecting human life. Nevertheless, what has happened since is extremely deplorable and leaves me shocked and disturbed.
If that’s so, people ask, then why don’t I issue a statement condemning the military? True, I am Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar. Since I took up the post in 2013, I have worked tirelessly to mediate a ceasefire between the government, the military and about 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAO). To build up mutual trust between EAO leaders, most of whom have fled to Thailand, and other stakeholders, I have visited the country and the region about 130 times as the Japanese government’s special envoy.
Typically, I leave Narita International Airport at around midnight, arrive in Thailand or Myanmar around dawn and interact with the EAO leaders and/or Myanmar government and military leaders until around 6 p.m. I then fly back to Japan, arriving in Narita the following morning and going straight to work at The Nippon Foundation, thus skipping any hotel accommodation.
Up until the military takeover, I had helped the Myanmar government and the military sign Nationwide Ceasefire Agreements (NCA) with 10 EAOs, while negotiations with the remaining 10 EAOs had as yet failed to produce tangible progress.
(To be continued)
【Yohei Sasakawa Around the World】 (8) Visit to the Central African Republic in 2011 [2021年05月21日（Fri）]
I would like to share a video taken during my visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) in July 2011 as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.
CAR, a landlocked central African country, is among the poorest nations in the world, according to the UNDP. It was another country that had achieved the WHO’s interim goal of eliminating leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, as a public health problem, reducing the prevalence of the disease to below 1 case per 10,000 population. But the prevalence rate was showing a tendency to rise in some parts of the country−a harsh reality with civil war and poverty devastating its health care system.
Accompanied by the CAR health minister, I visited a village in Lobaye Prefecture, home to Aka pygmies, a semi-nomadic people making a living largely by hunting. I met about 50 people affected by leprosy with many appearing to have disabilities. Speaking as their representative, one man requested appropriate footwear to prevent further disability. Life for these people looked very hard indeed.
In the capital Bangui, I met with the prime minister, the social affairs minister and other officials and was encouraged to hear their desire to eradicate the disease.
I hoped that my visit would prove the catalyst for closer cooperation between the WHO and the health ministry and that the CAR government would press ahead with reducing the prevalence of the disease in Lobaye and other prefectures where leprosy was endemic.
Still mired in the civil conflict, CAR detected 343 new cases of leprosy in 2019, according to WHO.
Six in 10 Japanese Youths Support Harsher Criminal Punishments for 18- and 19-Year-Olds: Poll [2021年05月14日（Fri）]
Bills have been submitted to the Diet (Parliament) to revise the Juvenile Law with effect from April 2022. Do you know about these moves?
Japan will lower the age of legal adulthood to 18 from the current 20 in April 2022 under the 2018 revision to the Civil Code, the first such change in about 140 years. This will allow 18- and 19-year-olds to, among other things, take out loans and credit cards and rent an apartment room without parental consent, although the legal age for smoking, drinking alcohol and legal gambling is set to remain at 20.
The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also submitted to the current ordinary session of the Diet (Parliament) bills designed to revise the Juvenile Law to expand the scope of crimes for which 18- and 19-year-olds can be tried as adults in criminal courts. Currently, they can only be tried as adults if crimes are committed with intent and lead to a victim’s death, but proposed revisions would add crimes punishable by at least one year in prison, including robbery, rape and arson.
The proposed legislation would continue to put 18- and 19-year-olds under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Law as “designated juveniles” with all criminal cases involving them sent to family courts first. But it would also allow the media to disclose their names and photos once they are formally indicted of these crimes after they are sent back to prosecutors.
In 2016, the revision of the Public Offices Election Law lowered the voting age from 20 to 18, allowing 18- and 19-year-olds to vote in national and local elections.
To look into how young Japanese feel about these legal changes, The Nippon Foundation conducted an online survey on the subject of “Juvenile Law Revisions” from March 19 to 22, covering 1,000 youths aged between 17 and 19 across the country.
The survey found that about six in 10 of the respondents (60.2%) said they knew about the proposed Juvenile Law revisions. Of these, 14.6% said they are following the issue closely, while 45.6% said they are vaguely aware of the issue.
When asked about the proposed amendments that would expand the scope of crimes for which 18- and 19-year-olds can be tried as adults, almost six in 10 (58.2%) endorse the revisions and only 4.3% do not, with 37.5% saying they don’t know.
The proposed revisions would also lift a ban on disclosure by media outlets of names, photos and other information that would expose the identities of 18- and 19-year-olds once indicted for these crimes. The poll showed that more than two in five (43.3%) approve of the change while less than one in five (18.8%) do not. The rest (37.9%) said they don’t know.
The House of Representatives passed the Juvenile Law revision bills on April 20 and should the House of Councilors do so during the current session as the government hopes, the revision would take effect in April 2022 simultaneously with the revised Civil Code. If that happens, 18- to 19-year-olds would be treated as adults under the Civil Code, but would remain under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Law as “designated juveniles.”
When asked about this, almost one in three (32.0%) said they see it as strange the country has two laws that treat them differently. The respondents were divided almost evenly with 50.9% feeling uncomfortable with the term “designated juveniles” and 49.1% not so.
Critics of the Juvenile Law amendments have argued that youth aged 18 and 19 are still highly “malleable” and full of potential for change. I sincerely hope that the change to the law, especially the media disclosure of their identities, will not deprive them of the opportunities they have to rehabilitate themselves under the current law and that simply subjecting them to heavier punishment will not risk increasing their recidivism.
This was the 36th in the series of the awareness survey of 18-year-olds launched by The Nippon Foundation in October 2018, following the lowering of the nation’s voting age from 20 to 18 in 2016. The survey was designed to track the attitudes and awareness of 18-year-olds regarding politics, society, work, families, friends and other issues.
Do you agree with expanding the scope of crimes for which 18- and 19-year-olds can be tried as adults?
My Contribution to the Sankei Newspaper Used in University Entrance Exam [2021年05月10日（Mon）]
The articles I contribute to newspapers and magazines and those posted on my Japanese blog are sometimes quoted by other newspapers and blogs. But it was a particular honor when an article I wrote for the Sankei Shimbun newspaper was used in its entirety in a Japanese university entrance examination.
It is the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that is known to be most cited in university entrance exams in Japan, exemplified by its popular daily column “Vox Populi, Vos Dei,” a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” The paper said in a special column that in fiscal 2020, 541 of its articles were used in entrance exams of 252 Japanese universities, making it the most frequently cited paper in entrance tests among five major Japanese national dailies. Apparently alarmed by a constant decline in its circulation, the Asahi seems eager to advertise its reputation as “the most cited paper in entrance exams in Japan” to boost its readership.
This is the second time that an article of mine has been used in a university entrance exam. On this occasion, it was the piece titled “Achieving Japan’s food security by revitalizing agriculture” that I contributed to the Seiron (Sound Opinion) column of the October 27, 2020, issue of the Sankei Shimbun.
Osaka Aoyama University used the article, comprising a little less than 2,000 words, in an entrance examination in Japanese for its Faculty of Health Sciences on February 21, 2021. Applicants were asked to read it and answer questions about a wide range of issues, including Japan’s food security, agriculture and the Rural Areas Basic Act as well as the meaning of terminology.
In the contribution, I noted that Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate based on a calories-supply basis has been on a constant decline since the 1960s to stand at 38% in fiscal 2019, ranking around 100th in the world. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I continued, almost 20 countries, including Russia, India and Vietnam, started restricting their exports of wheat and rice as they try to ease pressure on the domestic market.
Although Japan’s farming population has been on the decline, I wrote, I have been encouraged by the increasing number of young Japanese interested in actively taking up farming as well as the unprecedented boom in Japanese food witnessed in many countries following the 2013 designation of washoku, or Japanese cuisine, as an intangible cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Under the circumstances, I stressed the urgent need for Japan to look anew into how to revitalize its agriculture−a sector long considered to be in structural decline−as an important step toward raising the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate.
Founded in 2005, Osaka Aoyama University aims to nurture professionals with intellect, ethics and creativity who contribute to local communities. Its mainstay Faculty of Health Sciences consists of three departments focused on nursing, child education, and health and nutrition with a total of 240 students enrolled. Students of the Health and Nutrition Department are being trained to be experts on food and nutrition, and I look forward to seeing them contribute to enhancing Japan’s food security in the future.
The Nippon Foundation, Environment Ministry to Jointly Launch Nationwide Beach Cleanup Campaign [2021年05月07日（Fri）]
The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese Environment Ministry will jointly sponsor a nationwide beach cleanup campaign during spring and autumn UMIGOMI (ocean waste) Zero weeks.
The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese Ministry of the Environment will jointly sponsor a nationwide beach cleanup campaign to raise public awareness of the issue of ocean debris and help reduce trash inflows into the ocean.
Under the annual project, large-scale cleanup activities will be carried out across Japan primarily during, but not limited to, the spring UMIGOMI (ocean waste) Zero Week which will run from “Zero Litter Day” on May 30 (a play on the Japanese pronunciation of 5-3-0) to World Oceans Day on June 8 and the autumn UMIGOMI Zero Week starting on World Cleanup Day on September 18 and ending on September 26.
The cleanup drive will be undertaken not only on the beach, but also in parks and other inland areas as roughly 80% of ocean debris flows into the ocean from cities and towns, meaning that reducing litter on land is essential to preventing marine debris from accumulating.
In 2019, a total of 430,000 people participated in the cleanup activities at about 1,500 places all over Japan. But in 2020, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, we called on participants to act in line with the anti-COVID-19 guidelines worked out by the foundation and the secretariat of the UMIGOM Zero Week project.
This year, the Japanese government has reimposed a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, effective from April 25 until May 11. COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in many parts of the country and as of the morning of May 7 the government is preparing to extend the emergency declaration until May 31 with two more prefectures, Aichi and Fukuoka, to be added.
I hope that people who decide to join the campaign do so fully in accordance with the guidelines and take all possible precautions against the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing, mask wearing, and avoiding the “three Cs”: closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings. And of course, if other guidelines issued by the central and local governments are stricter than ours, then I would ask that they observe these.
Groups of 30 people and more participating in the campaign will be sent eco-friendly trash bags.
Meanwhile, The Nippon Foundation and the Environment Ministry also sponsor the UMIGOMI Zero Award to recognize superior activities, innovation, research and policies that can serve as role models for combating ocean debris. Applications are being accepted from March 22 through May 20. In 2020, we had 314 entries.
Winners are scheduled to be announced in September. The winner of UMIGOMI Zero Award Grand Prix will receive 1 million yen (about $9,200), while the winners of The Nippon Foundation Award and the Environment Minister Award will be given 250,000 yen (about $2,300) each.
Ocean debris is an increasingly serious issue worldwide with some experts forecasting that at the present rate, the total volume of plastic waste in the world’s oceans will exceed that of fish by 2050. I sincerely hope that the UMIGOMI Zero campaign will demonstrate Japan’s initiatives as an ocean country to the rest of the world in protecting the world’s oceans, creating a Japanese model that can be used throughout the world.
Environment-friendly plastic trash bags, containing more than 50% biomass plastic made from plants, will be sent to those who participate in cleanup campaigns in groups of 30 and more.
The more the trash-full bags pile up, the cleaner the ocean becomes.
at 10:28 | OCEAN